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Name: Cliff Lazenby
Occupation: director of information technology, Ocean Properties Resorts
Years living in Portsmouth: 16
Public service experience: City Council/assistant mayor 2018-19; Citywide Neighborhood Committee (member, chair, City Council representative); Economic Development Commission; Legislative Subcommittee; founder/Steering Committee chair of Portsmouth Community Coordinated Response to Substance Misuse; member Pease CAP (Community Assistance Panel); selectman Ward 4; Sustainability Committee; Portsmouth Listens; Elementary Schools Facilities Committee; City of Portsmouth Technology Advisory Group; Elwyn Park neighborhood leader; Dondero PTA vice president
Q1: What can the city do to increase its supply of affordable housing?
Affordable housing is as challenging an issue to solve as there is. There are local steps we can take to support innovative projects, like the Portsmouth Housing Authority Court Street project. I support the recent Gateway zoning changes to incentivize affordable housing and density in suitable locations. I support exploration of Pease as a source of residential housing. This is a great example of a problem that is regional more than it is local and calls for the city to cooperate with other municipalities and at the county, state, and federal levels to explore better affordable housing for the Seacoast. Perhaps there could be an innovative re-use of the Fox Run Mall to adapt for residential use — while not in the city of Portsmouth, with our cooperation, this could provide expansion of housing for members of the greater community.
Q2: Are there specific areas in the city budget where you think spending cuts can be made? Are there specific areas where you think spending should be increased?
Spending and efficiency should always be scrutinized and as a councilor I have held the city manager and department heads accountable to eliminate budgetary waste. I have seen little evidence of substantial budgetary waste, nor have I heard citizens or other city councilors identify cuts that would qualify as cutting “fat” as opposed to muscle or bone. Primarily, what I believe the people of Portsmouth have asked for is maintaining of the quality of services our city has provided. And though, in fact, in some cases the public has demanded more project investment or services, I think changes need to be gradual and in context of keeping taxpayer impact as near inflation as possible.
Because of continuing increasing costs of most everything — benefits, cost of living for employees, cost of materials and services for capital projects, costs of energy, costs of maintaining good infrastructure for water, sewer, roads, etc. — to not build in expectation of some regular increases would otherwise mean cuts in services, capital projects, and/or personnel.
Of important emphasis as far as direct impact to residents year-to-year is to have the resulting tax rate increase not be more than the rate of inflation. Revenues are also a critical part of any budget, and keeping that tax rate increase from increasing more than inflation was an important milestone in our current budget. The City Council cannot directly control property values, though we as a city can seek revenue sources as well as find smart growth opportunities to increase the property tax base through residential and commercial development. In this past term, I fought hard to pursue enabling legislation at the state level to allow municipalities the option of enacting a $2/night hotel fee paid by visitors that would offset the impact of tourism on our residents and infrastructure. Through testimony in Concord and diplomacy with other towns and cities, the legislation was passed in the House, though it did not get through the Senate. I hope to build on that momentum and continue fighting for sensible ways to increase revenues and offset burden on taxpayers.
Q3: Do you support a citywide ban on single-use disposables such as plastic bags, plastic straws, and Styrofoam containers?
The health of our environment requires more aggressive action to curtail the impact of these “forever waste” items. I supported City Council action to take a first step by setting the example of reduction by city organizations, on city-owned property and at city-sanctioned events. Banning of Styrofoam containers is a no-brainer. I look forward to the state of New Hampshire following examples of Portsmouth as well as other states in making this a priority by adopting enabling legislation for municipalities to take more meaningful measures.
Q4: Regarding the McIntyre redevelopment project:
A) Do you support the Redgate/Kane plan?
Yes. The Redgate-Kane project can be fantastic, and we all will have opportunities to continue to shape it to be. It may not be everyone’s everything, but it has many positives that speak to the key community goals expressed in the RFP. However, of its most important attributes, it has strong promise to enable a successful NPS application so Portsmouth can finally acquire the McIntyre property. Despite claims by some that the “McIntyre site belongs to the people of Portsmouth,” the fact is we have tried numerous paths, yet it has remained owned by the GSA. Rather than continuing the 14-year shutout, a key part of my decision as councilor was to “put some points on the board” and deliver the McIntyre to the people of Portsmouth.
Moving ahead with Redgate-Kane gives us the most direct path to a renovated McIntyre site with significant public benefit, requiring minimal taxpayer investment while returning significant revenue to offset taxpayer burden.
B) Do you think the Council should step back and consider other plans, such as the one put forth by Bill Binnie?
No. An open and transparent public process available to any developer was already undertaken, initiated by the previous City Council in 2017. The current Council, as elected, was charged with openly and fairly carrying out that process, which continued through 2019.
Our community and city government have invested significant effort to see through a process that strived, imperfectly or otherwise, for transparency and inclusivity. Many of the steps and decisions along the way were challenging and at times even messy. Ultimately, it was fair and reflective of a public, democratic process, and like public projects can be, not always harmonious.
Bill Binnie’s proposal was intriguing in what it offered and difficult because of its 11th-hour nature. Mr. Binnie had chances, like other development groups, to submit a proposal earlier in the process. As it stood this summer, the city was bound to complete the RFP process. Either move ahead with a development agreement with Redgate-Kane, or turn them down and start a new process open to Mr. Binnie and any other developers.
In the many months since Redgate-Kane was selected as partner in the RFP process, they have invested significant time and resources to build a successful project in cooperation with our community. There was no allowance in the process to add a late-game alternative where one developer was invited to use a special set of rules. Besides being a negative impact to our city and its reputation as a good-faith partner, our legal counsel warned that seeking such an unusual path would risk liability for legal action from Redgate-Kane. I felt it would be irresponsible in my duty as a city councilor to put Portsmouth in that position.
Q5: What can be done to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination and other chemical contaminants on the Seacoast?
PFAS is referred to as an “emerging contaminant” not because its presence is necessarily new, but because the science about how to measure it and its impact on health and environment is relatively recent. Initial signs are very troubling that the presence of PFAS is widespread and due to many sources and therefore presents major challenges in both “cleaning it up” and preventing more contamination. The city of Portsmouth needs to remain vigilant about monitoring all of its water supplies in compliance with the best science and health standards for safety. We need to be proactive in looking at vetted science and health standards set by other states and communities, and embrace grassroots efforts championed by activists like Portsmouth resident and Testing for Pease leader Andrea Amico.
At locations like Pease, as the primary source of contamination was Air Force firefighting foam, steps are being taken to filter out the PFAS from wells through new water filtering technologies, with the goal of eventually having cleaned water. This is good progress, and fortunately for local residents, these steps are paid for by the Air Force, not local taxpayers. At Coakley Landfill, the issue of removing contamination is more challenging as the waste stored in the landfill is the source of contamination and therefore simply “pump and treat” of wells will provide short-term fixes for clean water but not really remove the source of contamination. Where would you remove the waste to? And at what cost and effort compared to reinforcing efforts to cap and contain the waste and limit its ability to contaminate? In conjunction with that containment, it is critical to be vigilant about testing and monitoring of wells, water supplies, and surface water. Communities will need to cooperate to find effective means of access to healthy water — perhaps extending municipal water sources that are otherwise monitored for safety. Also, for other notable sources of PFAS — i.e. car washes, use of equipment (like firefighting) that is known to contain PFAS — different, less contaminated materials need to be used. Finally, as many of these efforts will prove enormously expensive, we need to continue cooperation at the regional, state, and federal levels to pursue funding sources, including legal action that may be taken against polluters.
Q6: Do you feel that development in Portsmouth — particularly of luxury condos, hotels, and other large-scale buildings — should be curtailed?
The pace of growth is always worth careful consideration, and our city planning needs to consider periodic comprehensive review of zoning such as has been done fairly recently. In order to work toward housing affordability, residential higher-density development, where suitable, is needed. Otherwise, continued high demand will cause existing supply to continue to rise in cost. However, careful consideration must be taken about balance with our neighborhoods and cultural resources. In being innovative about zoning such as with the Gateway Districts, density can be used to incentivize developers to build affordable housing units that otherwise have not emerged through private development.
While I do have high respect for rights of property owners and the well thought-out and deliberate process of zoning, it would be good to see residential and commercial growth outside of hotels and luxury condos. There are benefits of development in increasing the property tax base, which can relieve burden on other taxpayers. In the past few years, the city of Portsmouth endured a significant loss in commercial property tax revenue when the Schiller station was deregulated and sold at auction. Without recent developments that added to the property tax base, residential taxpayers would have had much more burden.
Q7: What are your feelings on the idea of building a permanent covered stage in Prescott Park for festival events?
I am very open to supporting this, but would want to first fully consider concerns and legal ramifications. The Prescott Park Arts Festival is a wonderful fixture of Portsmouth for residents and visitors and fits well in spirit of how the park is intended to be used. A permanent covered stage would allow more quality events to proceed as scheduled and cost less than repeatedly putting up and taking down a “temporary” stage that is less effective for its purpose.
Q8: Should the city add more bike lanes and/or take other measures to improve bicycle safety and/or reduce motor-vehicle traffic downtown?
I generally support measures to improve bikeability and walkability, though I think there are higher-priority concerns outside of downtown. Peverly Hill Road, Banfield Road, and Elwyn Road all need attention. I do support the priorities and good community work reflected in the city’s Bike/Ped Master Plan. I also support considering better ways to get travelers to and from downtown resources — i.e. micro-transit, parking shuttles for employees, etc.
Q9: Are there any significant projects that should be undertaken outside of the downtown area and Islington Street corridor?
Yes, many. Sound barriers to insulate Pannaway Manor from I-95; Peverly Hill sidewalks/bike-ped; improve Banfield Road for bike-ped, drainage, and safety. Elwyn Road walkability and connection to Elwyn Park neighborhood. Investment in neighborhood park and trails around Dondero School. Route 1 Corridor expansion of walkability. Portsmouth participation in Rail Trail.
Q10: A times this summer, there were road closures on Islington Street, Woodbury Avenue (by the traffic circle), Maplewood Avenue, and other roads all at once. Is there a way to reduce the heavy concentration of road work that creates detours and traffic congestion in the summer?
I appreciate the fatigue of getting through these improvement projects, and there may always be ways to look at better coordinating overlap of different city projects. Ultimately, however, all of these projects have either been in support of goals and demands of the community or addressed pressing infrastructure needs (i.e. Woodbury bridge). Not only do we have limits on when in the year projects can be accomplished, access to funds can also have limits year-to-year. For the most part, if we hang in there, I think the positives of the improved results will be what endures and the short-term inconvenience will feel worth it.
Q11: What actions should be taken at the city level to address climate change?
On the one hand, Portsmouth needs to continue to “walk the walk” of its “eco-municipality” status and pursue initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via micro-transit, encouraging electric vehicles, and expansion of bike-pedestrian-friendly travel. But, as a coastal city, it is important to prepare for sea-level rise and the impact it will have not only on historic resources but on neighborhoods throughout the city. We need to continue citywide assessment of impacts and cooperate regionally and at the state level to identify resources to make infrastructure improvements to defend against impact.
Q12: Name one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities Portsmouth will face in the next 10 to 20 years.
PFAS and challenges of healthy water supply are among the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth and communities everywhere. At Pease, where we are on the frontline cleaning up wells contaminated by the Air Force and providing needed health consultation to those exposed, I have served on the Pease Community Assistance Panel (CAP) to make sure our residents, employees, and city concerns are represented. With our municipal water supply, we must remain vigilant with our aggressive monitoring that contamination levels be below those that the best science tells us are safe. And, with the Coakley Landfill, the city is responsible to monitor that contamination impact is contained and consider there may be added taxpayer costs ahead of us in helping provide access to healthy water to drink and for wildlife. During this council term, I led calls for greater transparency and openness of information, including spearheading a multi-town community forum.
Portsmouth has an opportunity to be a significant leader at a regional level to address so many issues that need that level of cooperation to effectively solve them. Whether with affordable housing, providing access to healthy water, addressing needs of a rapidly aging population, or coordinating to get ahead of the opioid crisis, Portsmouth can be a leader in being smart with our time and resources to achieve results that benefit all of us. As we have in gaining support for a local hotel fee to relieve property tax burden that all municipalities share, we can build stronger regional support to take on issues that will not go away without that cooperation.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
I look forward to Halloween every year but rarely have costumes worked out until much closer to the event. Last year, my wife Stephanie and I had a great time being Mork and Mindy. Nanu, Nanu.